The Girls Leadership Institute reports that girls need positive affirmation more so than boys. This holds true for professional women given the specific challenges we have in the workplace. Indeed, a study by Thomson-Reuters found that women were much more likely than men to say having their work recognized is important to them. A Harvard Business Review study of women engineers found that women are more likely to look to people of authority to affirm or reaffirm their confidence.
Women, particularly senior women, can make a difference on this score by providing positive feedback to other women through day-to-day recognition, a powerful tool for building women’s confidence, improving their performance, and creating a culture of women supporting women.
The Value of Day-to-Day Recognition
All people, not only women, need day-to-day recognition to perform at consistently high levels. Day-to-day recognition is simply positive feedback, the verbal or written recognition that goes directly from one person to another. It can be as simple as saying “thank you” for a job well done or writing a short e-mail that tells a person that you recognize a contribution she made.
Day-to-day recognition motivates people and meets an important human need. A sign of appreciation leads to an increase in morale, improves the quality of the work environment, and even improves accountability. Furthermore, when women recognize other women, it dispels the presence of the “queen bee” or “mean girl” syndrome that can plague women’s credibility and progress.
Characteristics of Effective Day-to-Day Recognition
Effective day-to-day recognition should have the following characteristics:
- Immediate— The value of day-to-day recognition is enhanced by its immediacy. An often-cited study by Dr. Gerald Graham indicates that one type of reward most gratifying to employees is personalized, spur-of-the-moment recognition. You should recognize people right after they perform well (e.g., right after a meeting or deliverable).
- Stand-alone— Day-to-day recognition should not be qualified with a “but” or “however” (You were very effective in that meeting, but…”). Qualifiers lead to mixed messages and the recipient will only remember the negative message. This is not to say that you should never provide constructive (i.e., negative) feedback, — in fact, direct and critical feedback is essential to women’s development and progress — but constructive feedback can wait for a more structured interaction.
- Specific— Don’t just say “Good job.” Tell someone specifically what she did well. Provide examples that will help the receiver understand what behaviors and actions you recognize as valuable. People want to do the right thing, but they can only do so if they know what the right thing is.
- Sincere and genuine— Really mean it when you recognize someone’s strong performance – i.e., if the strong performance is not there, don’t act like it is. People appreciate and trust authenticity.
Take the Challenge
People repeat what is reinforced and recognized. Day-to-day recognition powerfully affirms and encourages women to more proactively leverage their areas of strength. Saying “thank you” and writing an e-mail of appreciation costs very little in time or dollars, but produces great benefits, while also strengthening a culture of women supporting women.
So to all my women colleagues, I respectfully challenge you to make it a regular goal to proactively identify strong performance in women, and when you observe it, recognize it; let her know that you value her efforts. But don’t make it a one-shot deal; do it consistently and make it a part of your day-to-day professional or managerial activities. You have nothing to lose, and women have a lot to gain.